The Ears Have It

I scratched my cornea. Not on purpose. I was chasing a chicken (all my best stories start that way…) and as I lurched at Queen Eleanor under the forsythia bush, a branch insinuated itself into my right eye. It was more like a ‘stab’ than an insinuation, but you get the idea.

One trip to the ER (antibiotic, white-knuckle debris extraction, percocet, home) later I was in bed, unable to do any of the things I like to do when I’m laid up, namely read, crit, write, (read) watch movies. NOTHING OCULAR was on the menu.

Which is why I turned to my sometime-forgotten friends, my ears.

WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI by Sandhya Menon
Audiobooks are at least 50% only as good as the narrator – and these narrators are amazing. And the story -it’s a love story and those who know me know that THAT is not my thing. It’s also hopeful, funny, awkward and sweet – all things that are not my things. But D&R are definitely my thing. I love listening to them fall in love.

(PUB)LISHING CRAWL
Thank the good gods that Kelly and JJ are back from their hiatus with full episodes of their podcast on all things writerly. Listening to them is like sitting next to publishing people at the bar and eavesdropping on their conversation because you’re stuck with your day-job work friends, who are doing shots of limoncello and crying about not hooking up with Ross from accounting. What I’m saying is, it’s a balm for the writing soul and absolutely a must listen.

WRITER WRITER PANTS ON FIRE
I started listening to WWPOF while reading Mindy McGinnis’ awesome book, THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES. The handling of gender norms in that book is so intriguing, I wanted to know more about Mindy. There’s a lot to know. She’s a prolific writer, blogger and podcaster and has tons of resources on he website including book reviews and interviews with published authors – which are amazing because they really try to reveal something new about the publishing process. Every Monday morning I listen as Mindy asks unexpected questions and gets unusual answers from established and debut authors. Definitely add Writer Writer to your playlist.

And so, puffed up eyeball or no, I *worked* today. I soaked my brain in words and craft and ate lots of Utz potato chips. Which is probably due to the percocet.

What are your best kept audio secrets?

NJSCBWI Conference Or…

…a drink at 11:30AM is fine if you are learning!

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pool hall girls

This past weekend I put my job and family life in a box, shoved it under the bed and went all the way to beautiful downtown New Brunswick to get my author game ON.

Maybe (like when Jenny and Lynda Gene and I tried to play pool in the 15 minutes between sessions and did so, badly) it wasn’t always pretty. But it was enlightening. Invigorating. Inspirational and damn. good. fun.

This is why writing conferences are so important. You can nerd out to your heart’s content about the things that usually bore your friends and family. Your conference family UNDERSTANDS that you want to talk about how hard it is to write that perfect query letter. Or how you are having legit heart palpitations because you’re about to do your first ever agent pitch. Or how it’s okay to have your mouth full of dessert at dinner because the agent sitting next to you does too. It feels awesome to ‘come home.’

Among an embarrassment of wonderful workshops, here are my favorites:

Let’s Talk Marketing with Doreen McGettigan
Doreen unleashed a metric ton of amazing information on us. My hand could not write fast enough to keep up with her – no fault of hers, there was just a lot to take in! I need a marketing plan for my book. I need to learn what goes into that marketing plan! Doreen had the answers and even better, questions that I need to ask myself about what I want and what I can do. It was an amazing start to the conference and got Jenny and I revved up! Check out Doreen’s site here.

Writing Marginalized Voices in Children’s Books w/ Emma Otheguy & Andrea Loney
Okay, first of all, look at this amazing:

bunnybear-cover-768x512main_martis_song_for_freedom_cover

Andrea Loney’s lovely BUNNYBEAR about a bear that is very different… and very sweet. Emma Otheguy’s MARTÍ’S SONG FOR FREEDOM is BILINGUAL which I love! It’s also wonderful. Both these books have gone on youngest’s bookshelf.

It was a joy hearing Andrea and Emma talk about marginalized voices and how writing books for  all kinds of children (and bears and bunnies too) gives those children a mirror to see themselves reflected in the world. It tells our kids, you have a place. Your stories are important.

It was a no judgement zone and an important discussion about how to write marginalized characters (representation) and how not to (appropriation) and lots of other good stuff in between. I heart these ladies. Find Andrea here and Emma here.

Developing a Gay or Questioning Character in Middle-Grade Fiction with
Mary E. Cronin
This was my favorite workshop. Mary Cronin has such a generous way of ‘teaching’ that it feels less like knowledge transfer and more like talking to a *really* smart person over cups of tea and pound cake.* I’ve been aware for a while (and have worked to be inclusive in my own work) of LGBTQ characters in YA, but there’s less representation in Middle Grade. I suspect that comes from a misunderstanding of what sexual identity means and when it develops (spoiler alert, doesn’t equate having sex) or a general ignorance on the part of readers. I’ve had the experience of hearing that my daughter’s friend’s mom didn’t allow her to read Raina Telgemeier’s DRAMA because there was a gay character in it and that ‘wasn’t appropriate for her age.’ Can you imagine being 11 and being told, implicitly or not, that your feelings are not appropriate? I am not on board with that. NOPE.

Mary had so many wonderful ideas on how, where and what kinds of experiences would make wonderful parts of a character’s discovery of self – and make a great story. Got me excited to try writing an MG! You can find Mary here.

Of course my brain is bursting with ideas from this conference. I’m practically drooling words over here. That’s the good work that going to a good conference does. So where are YOU going this summer?

*or gin and cheese straws. I’m up for either.

What’s Next?

You could say I spend most of my time in an alternate reality (as writers do) in order to escape reality, but actually, it’s to understand reality.

Reality is HARD. BAFFLING. Often it’s ridiculous enough to seem like fiction. Lately, reality has been pulling me away from my beautiful fiction. Yeah, I’m using the word ‘reality’ as a stand-in for ‘politics’. You guys are smart.

One of my cures for politics (other than being a pain-in-the-ass to elected officials) is to watch THE WEST WING. Martin Sheen is my TV dad. Watching him in anything is a joy. But watching him as the president. It soothes, it really does.

I love when he says, What’s Next? If you’ve seen the TV show at all you know that means “What’s next?” and ALSO means “I’m done talking about the other thing, we’re moving on.”

THIS IS HARD when you are a writer. Moving on to another book when you’ve spent months if not YEARS on that book is freaking HARD.

But there comes a point where your job is over. You need to pass your baby off to the next stage of it’s development. It could be to beta readers. It could be to agents you are querying. Whatever that pass off looks like, it will be painful. How do you know you are done? How do you know it’s ready? How do you know it’s the right time?

You don’t.

Or rather, you can’t know that, until you pass the word-baby along. And because people aren’t (yet) robots, it will take time for them to get back to you with any kind of feedback. You cannot wait for them. Time is a finite resource, friends. You need to ask yourself, “What’s Next?”

Even if it’s half-assed, even if you only have the vaguest notion of what you’ll write next, or if you LITERALLY have not even thought of it, Think Of It. You’ve been stuck in the alternate reality of your book for a very long time. It seems realer to you than any other story you can conceive of. You may even feel like any other ideas are flimsy in comparison (of course they are; they’re embryo-ideas). Regardless, you have to pull your head out of your fully gestated book and start noodling around for the next book.

Maybe your goal was to write ONE BOOK. If so and you did it, go ahead and knock off. Drink a beer or a Red Bull or a White Lady, you’ve earned it. But if you plan, as I do, to have a Sustainable Writing Life, you need to say, in your best Martin Sheen voice:

giphy

Are Writing Conferences Worth the Cost?

I belong to a SCBWI writers’ group in Pennsylvania and had the pleasure of meeting with them this week to discuss, among other things, making and keeping writing goals.

Our fearless leader had a list of things that can distract us from our goals (internet, family, dirty laundry – my old nemesis), and a list of things that can help us achieve goals (writing groups, deadlines, conferences.)

But one person in our group thought conferences might belong in the ‘distractions’ column. After all, it’s a weekend where you are emphatically not writing. You’re talking, you’re listening, (if you are me, you are drinking) you’re absorbing – basically the opposite of writing.

If you are not at the stage where you are actively looking for an agent or editor—whether because you have not finished a manuscript, or because you already have one of those mythical unicorn-type people in your corner—it might seem like a conference is a waste of time.

Also, the expense, lord save us all. THE EXPENSE. If you get out of the experience losing only a few hundred dollars, you have gotten a BARGAIN. Travel costs, the basics of the workshop and add-ons like ms. reviews, round tables, dinner with faculty. It’s A Lot.

So, is it worth it? It can be. Here’s what I think can make conference going worthwhile.

  1. You’ve done all the hard work of getting your writing in good shape. You’ve polished the scat out of it. It’s ready for new eyes.
  2. You are ready to expand your circle of writerly-friends. From my first conference, I met the very talented Ramona Defelice Long and Becky Levine. Becky is an incredible crit partner and Ramona is just a joy. Neither of them live close to me. I wouldn’t have met them if I hadn’t gone to my first conference.*
  3. You want to try to pitch to agents. Personally, I hate pitching. I am terrible at all sports and this sounds like sports + the Inquisition. But nothing will focus the mind like knowing you have to reduce your book to its essence and make that essence sing. It’s scary. You may not be good at it. You have to try.
  4. The workshops speak to you. Some workshops will not be your cup of tea. You could never get me to go to Yoga For Writers. NEVER. But, Building an Online Platform? Revision the Right Way? LGBTQ in Middle Grade? Sign me up! The workshop descriptions should rev you up.
  5. The faculty are people you respect. You know how you know you’re ready for a conference? You have already (nicely, respectfully) stalked some of these people online. Meaning, you follow their twitter accounts, you’ve read their blogs, you know what books they represent and who they publish. Like the most amazing Hermione Granger ever, you have ‘swotted up’ and know all about them. Now it’s time to make those connections in person.

And of course, you have to be able to afford the conference. But – here’s the trick – there are A MILLION** conferences for you to choose from. There are the big ones once or twice a year (SCBWI, Writers Digest, Thrillfest, Bouchercon, just to name a few) and much smaller ones – one day workshops, weekend retreats that are primarily self guided. You can find some listings at the back of the latest issue of Writers Digest and you can find some at Shaw Guides (though, be careful. Some ‘conferences’ are really just dolled up B&B experiences without the faculty or experts on hand to make it worthwhile. Buyer beware.)

Another way to find conferences is to join an association (Sisters in Crime; SCBWI for children’s book writers), that either hosts conferences/workshops, or can list them on their site. Finally, look for regional conferences near where you live, to cut down on travel expenses.

So far, I have never regretted attending a conference. I have always made connections, learned something and come away a better writer. Your mileage may vary, but if you’ve never attended one before, take the plunge, if you can. If you are willing to work for it, it will be worth it.

I’m at two conferences this Spring;

Color of Children’s Literature, NYC April 8th

NJ SCBWI Annual Conference, New Brunswick, NJ, June 3rd.

Are you going to any conferences this year? Any that you have loved or loathed? Or are all conferences evil drains of your precious writing time? Let me know!

*I also met my agent Barbara Poelle at my first writers conference. I impressed her, I think, with the large quantities of bacon I was eating at breakfast. Somehow, she still chose to represent me.
**Not a million. I made that up.

In The Hopper: Podcasts

This is a hopper:

tsg_slag_powerenergy-3

It’s basically a funnel type thing where you add stuff to other stuff. It’s also my term for putting stuff into my writing brain.

Because if you thought that reading books was enough to write books, well I’m here to tell you that you are – maybe right? I don’t know. Some people write that way. And some people never have to look at other kind of art or information to gain inspiration. Those people’s inner lives are so rich, so incredibly streaked with gold ore that they need put nothing in the hopper to turn out pure goodness.

Those people probably are really boring at parties BTW, since the last TV show they saw was Murder She Wrote. In primetime.

And those people aren’t me. I need raw material to go into the funnel-type things that are my senses so that when I’m writing, I can pull out half-macerated ideas that fit in with my story.

A news story about wearables that treat PTSD. Binge watching DeGrassi: Next Class. Remembering the way my cousin could sing a Journey song in perfect English, even though she doesn’t speak a word of English. All those pieces of information went into my hopper and made it into my last book.

I put stuff in the hopper. Add time and/or alcohol. Magical story-grade ore comes out.

So I thought I’d start a series called In The Hopper to call out types of raw material I use to keep this creaky version of Howl’s Moving Castle up on it’s chicken legs.

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PODCASTS

I listen to a lot of media. Audiobooks, NPR, radioplays and lots and lots of podcasts (which, I keep wanting to spell as ‘podcats’ so forgive me if that happens. I like the look of ‘podcats’).

I have two favorite podcasts right now; one for the WRITER the other for the AUTHOR. (Writer is who I am when I’m writing and thinking story; Author is who I am when I’m writing blog posts and thinking about the business of writing and reading.)

RADIO AMBULANTE

Okay, it’s in Spanish, so slight drawback if you don’t speak that language. But it’s SO GOOD. I wish I could give everyone I know a Douglas Adams style bablefish JUST so they could listen to RADIO AMBULANTE. It’s like Radio Lab for Latin America, but I find it even more interesting, more VITAL than Radio Lab or even This American Life. And the stories will kill you and make you laugh and cry and then make you hungry. That’s maybe just me.

You can read about their series here in English.

PUB CRAWL

Am I the last writer on earth to know about Publishing Crawl? I read a lot of blogs and am constantly Googling around town trying to avoid my newsfeed of doom. How did I miss this blog AND podcast for FIVE YEARS? Because I suck, I hear you say. Verily.

I love the podcasts because they are deep, deep dives into the business of being a writer. Told from agent, editor, publicist perspectives, it’s like you have a direct line to publishing insiders. There’s nothing the co-hosts Kelly Van Sant and S. Jae-Jones won’t discuss. Some of it is terrifyingly frank – and if you don’t want to know how the sausage is made, this may not be the podcast for you. But if you want to understand publishing as a business and how you fit (hopefully) inside that business, it’s a must listen.

There are also wonderful craft-focused podcasts and awesome recommendations for other things to put into the hopper from these very talented ladies.

You can read Pub Crawl here and listen to their podcats* on SoundCloud here.

So. What do you put in the hopper? Where do you turn to for inspiration?

*totally did that on purpose.

 

 

The Politics of Dancing

My mother in law says she doesn’t discuss politics with her friends. Okay, is it weird to start anything with ‘my mother in law says’? I know, it is, but bear with me.

She asked me about the book I was writing, the book which I finished (for realz this time) two days ago. When I told her just a *few* of the topics—immigration, LGBTQ identity, love, sisters—she wondered if it was necessary to be political in a book.

My mom in law is AWESOME, I want you to know. And she wasn’t being judgmental at all. She really wanted to know: should politics be in books? Wouldn’t that alienate some readers?

It’s a good question but the way I see it, an unnecessary question. There are no politics in anything I write. There ARE people. And people plus people equals politics. Ideas cause politics. Life causes politics. A separation of politics from life isn’t possible. Or I guess it is, but I don’t think it makes for good books.

Politics IS sort of an icky word, TBH, sounding sterile and, well ‘removable’. But change the word politics to beliefs. Change it to values. Change it to how you want to care for the world and for each other. THAT should be in every book you write.

And what does that have to do with dancing? Nothing. I just like this song.

THE SEVEN THINGS WRITERS FEAR

Ha ha. Made you look. There are way more than seven. But lets start with these:

  1. Writing. Writing is scary. If you commit words to a page there’s a chance that those words can be a steaming pile of crap. Crappy words = crappy writer.
    But! If you just write ‘in your head’, sit in a café and watching YouTube, if you spend time reading writing magazines, advice columns and following writers on twitter (none of this is bad in itself, of course) you will procrastinate the hell out of your writing career! You’ll never be a crappy writer! You’ll never be a writer either, tho.
  2. Blank Page. When I was a kid I tried to keep a diary. (All the cool kids were doing it. We were also all rollerskating to Crazy Train.) But seeing my terrible handwriting, the blue ink from my erasable PaperMates pen smearing across the page – it just stopped the flow. The snowy expanse of the white page is intimidating. It’s already perfect (if you like all that bland whiteness) you’re just going to smudge it up with your boring, oft-repeated words. Why bother? Because telepathy hasn’t been invented yet. And the best way to get your ideas to another person – maybe even the best way to get those ideas clearly to yourself – is to write them.
  3. Not Writing the write Right way. Grammar, spelling, usage —the building blocks of writing is are scary. I am scared of grammar when I write in Spanish. I didn’t go to school learning that language. So when I try to figure out what is grammatically correct in Spanish, I run to my sources (Google. Spanish-English Dictionary. My sister.) So I get that it’s hard when you are afraid of looking stupid. But if you are afraid of looking stupid, why are you trying to do something creative? Creative professions demand you risk looking stupid. It’s a requirement. Grammar should be the least of your fears. (Mwah-ha-ha!)
  4. Idea Theft. I don’t completely understand this one, but I know a lot of would-be writers are afraid of this. The thinking goes a little like this: I have this world-shatteringly original idea for a dystopian love story between two animatronic Dodo birds. But I don’t want to share it with a writing group, or a writing partner, or a crit partner because they will steal my idea! Idea stealing does happen, I hear (I haven’t had it happen to me or anyone I know personally) but here’s the thing. If you are a writer, ideas are your bricks. They are your tools. They aren’t the thing itself. Do you know how many books feature wizards, dragons and elves? I don’t know either, but a TON. Yet, there is only one HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE. What matters is what you DO with the ideas you have. No one can write your idea the way you can. No one has the history, memories, perspective and voice that you do. Ideas are great, but you should be working on cultivating dozens of ideas, on a regular basis, not concentrating on protecting one precioussss.
  5. Failing/Getting Rejected. Don’t worry about this one. Seriously. You WILL get rejected. So, no fear.
  6. Seriously, you’re still thinking about Failing and Rejections, right? WHY? Accept that failing is just like waiting in line at the DMV or at the Starbucks. It. Will. Happen. And you will recover. Each failure is a mini-lesson that will ensure you fail in a whole different way next time. So if you want to think of failing as a sort of ‘dues’ paying, go ahead. That’s what it is. My neighbor sends her kids out in the summer to play barefoot so they’ll get their ‘summer’ feet – good old calloused feet perfect for climbing trees, doing cartwheels and walking, unbothered, on gravel. You need to get summer feet for your writing feelings. Okay, that’s a really awkward sentence. Fail. But you get the idea.
  7. Wasting time. Finally! A genuine fear. Wasting time. Don’t do it. Commit to writing in whatever way you want to this year and DO. IT. We don’t have all the time in the world. We don’t even have all the time we think we should. Should you be writing right now? YES. Go away. And write. You got this.

What Revising with an Agent Feels Like

  1. You finish your book and write THE END.
  2. You send it to your agent. As soon as you hit send, you realize everything that is wrong with your manuscript and wish you could control +z that effer back into your inbox.
  3. You calm down and try not to think about it. That works for approximately two days as you do all the things you neglected to do while drafting (Laundry. Pay bills.)
  4. People start asking ‘How’s it going?” which messes up point three.
  5. Your agent gets back to you. She loves it! Small tweaks she says. Let’s talk, she says.
  6. You wonder if your agent’s definition of ‘tweaks’ is some obscure medieval definition that actually means large, seismic changes.
  7. You and your agent talk. Or, she talks and you madly scribble down notes and make stupid jokes. You agree with all her changes because she’s a genius. Or there’s one point that you push back on (or two, or three) but after talking it out, you agree, or convince her of your point. This talking, hashing it out is part of the work. You marvel at all the little pieces of thinking that makes a book go.
  8. You get off the phone with your agent and realize that you have promised her a bunch of changes (deep digs, cosmetic changes and killing off some people) in FOUR WEEKS. CRAP! These are medieval tweaks.
  9. You realize that one of those weeks is going to evaporate because it’s Christmas.
  10. You panic, gently, into your Holiday Spiced Flat White.
  11. A friend who is beta reading for you texts you from a plane to say she’s freaked out and can’t wait to read more.
  12. Another beta reader friend tells you she loves it…and gives you a whole bunch of suggestions for edits.
  13. You realize that writing is a living thing. It’s never over. It’s only ever evolving, growing. This, instead of throwing you into despair, makes you happy. A sustainable writing life. It’s what you’ve always started.
  14. You stop writing your blog post and get to work revising.

Writing is Hard

Let’s play a game, shall we? Every time one of us says, “Writing is hard,” we take a drink. Yes, I know it’s 8 O’clock in the morning. Nope, that doesn’t bother me at all.

As I (Michelle) move to the rewrite/redraft stage, and as I look at the structure of Draft 1 and each scene of Draft 1, evaluating if it’s fixable, if it needs to be trashed, or if it’s perfect just the way it is (just kidding, that third option is fake), I’m reminded again why writing is so damned hard.

*drinks*

So many elements have to fit together in every scene as well as in the greater structure, for a novel to create the emotional resonance needed for readers to really connect and for them to feel like, once they’ve read, they’ve been changed.

The best advice I’ve seen on how to weave all those elements together comes from David Mamet’s memo to the writers of the Unit. His advice is simple and intuitive, but as I’m learning with my rewrites, it is damn hard to implement. Because well, folks, writing is hard.

*drinks*

To that end, here is his memo, reprinted without permission, cut and pasted from a random website, written in ALL CAPS because if you’re David Mamet, you can do that without making your colleagues hate you. You can also, apparently, be liberal with your use of the word “dickhead.”

Without further ado:

“TO THE WRITERS OF THE UNIT”

GREETINGS.

AS WE LEARN HOW TO WRITE THIS SHOW, A RECURRING PROBLEM BECOMES CLEAR.

THE PROBLEM IS THIS: TO DIFFERENTIATE BETWEEN DRAMA AND NON-DRAMA. LET ME BREAK-IT-DOWN-NOW.

EVERYONE IN CREATION IS SCREAMING AT US TO MAKE THE SHOW CLEAR. WE ARE TASKED WITH, IT SEEMS, CRAMMING A SHITLOAD OF INFORMATION INTO A LITTLE BIT OF TIME.

OUR FRIENDS. THE PENGUINS, THINK THAT WE, THEREFORE, ARE EMPLOYED TO COMMUNICATE INFORMATION — AND, SO, AT TIMES, IT SEEMS TO US.

BUT NOTE:THE AUDIENCE WILL NOT TUNE IN TO WATCH INFORMATION. YOU WOULDN’T, I WOULDN’T. NO ONE WOULD OR WILL. THE AUDIENCE WILL ONLY TUNE IN AND STAY TUNED TO WATCH DRAMA.

QUESTION:WHAT IS DRAMA? DRAMA, AGAIN, IS THE QUEST OF THE HERO TO OVERCOME THOSE THINGS WHICH PREVENT HIM FROM ACHIEVING A SPECIFIC, ACUTE GOAL.

SO: WE, THE WRITERS, MUST ASK OURSELVES OF EVERY SCENE THESE THREE QUESTIONS.

1) WHO WANTS WHAT?

2) WHAT HAPPENS IF HER DON’T GET IT?

3) WHY NOW?

THE ANSWERS TO THESE QUESTIONS ARE LITMUS PAPER. APPLY THEM, AND THEIR ANSWER WILL TELL YOU IF THE SCENE IS DRAMATIC OR NOT.

IF THE SCENE IS NOT DRAMATICALLY WRITTEN, IT WILL NOT BE DRAMATICALLY ACTED.

THERE IS NO MAGIC FAIRY DUST WHICH WILL MAKE A BORING, USELESS, REDUNDANT, OR MERELY INFORMATIVE SCENE AFTER IT LEAVES YOUR TYPEWRITER. YOU THE WRITERS, ARE IN CHARGE OF MAKING SURE EVERY SCENE IS DRAMATIC.

THIS MEANS ALL THE “LITTLE” EXPOSITIONAL SCENES OF TWO PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT A THIRD. THIS BUSHWAH (AND WE ALL TEND TO WRITE IT ON THE FIRST DRAFT) IS LESS THAN USELESS, SHOULD IT FINALLY, GOD FORBID, GET FILMED.)

IF THE SCENE BORES YOU WHEN YOU READ IT, REST ASSURED IT WILL BORE THE ACTORS, AND WILL, THEN, BORE THE AUDIENCE, AND WE’RE ALL GOING TO BE BACK IN THE BREADLINE.

SOMEONE HAS TO MAKE THE SCENE DRAMATIC. IT IS NOT THE ACTORS JOB (THE ACTORS JOB IS TO BE TRUTHFUL). IT IS NOT THE DIRECTORS JOB. HIS OR HER JOB IS TO FILM IT STRAIGHTFORWARDLY AND REMIND THE ACTORS TO TALK FAST. IT IS YOUR JOB.

EVERY SCENE MUST BE DRAMATIC. THAT MEANS: THE MAIN CHARACTER MUST HAVE A SIMPLE, STRAIGHTFORWARD, PRESSING NEED WHICH IMPELS HIM OR HER TO SHOW UP IN THE SCENE.

THIS NEED IS WHY THEY CAME. IT IS WHAT THE SCENE IS ABOUT. THEIR ATTEMPT TO GET THIS NEED MET WILL LEAD, AT THE END OF THE SCENE,TO FAILURE – THIS IS HOW THE SCENE IS OVER. IT, THIS FAILURE, WILL, THEN, OF NECESSITY, PROPEL US INTO THE NEXT SCENE.

ALL THESE ATTEMPTS, TAKEN TOGETHER, WILL, OVER THE COURSE OF THE EPISODE, CONSTITUTE THE PLOT.

ANY SCENE, THUS, WHICH DOES NOT BOTH ADVANCE THE PLOT, AND STANDALONE (THAT IS, DRAMATICALLY, BY ITSELF, ON ITS OWN MERITS) IS EITHER SUPERFLUOUS, OR INCORRECTLY WRITTEN.

*drinks*

YES BUT YES BUT YES BUT, YOU SAY: WHAT ABOUT THE NECESSITY OF WRITING IN ALL THAT “INFORMATION?”

AND I RESPOND “FIGURE IT OUT” ANY DICKHEAD WITH A BLUESUIT CAN BE (AND IS) TAUGHT TO SAY “MAKE IT CLEARER” AND “I WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT HIM”.

WHEN YOU’VE MADE IT SO CLEAR THAT EVEN THIS BLUESUITED PENGUIN IS HAPPY, BOTH YOU AND HE OR SHE WILL BE OUT OF A JOB.

THE JOB OF THE DRAMATIST IS TO MAKE THE AUDIENCE WONDER WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. NOT TO EXPLAIN TO THEM WHAT JUST HAPPENED, OR TO*SUGGEST* TO THEM WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.

*drinks*

ANY DICKHEAD, AS ABOVE, CAN WRITE, “BUT, JIM, IF WE DON’T ASSASSINATE THE PRIME MINISTER IN THE NEXT SCENE, ALL EUROPE WILL BE ENGULFED IN FLAME”

WE ARE NOT GETTING PAID TO REALIZE THAT THE AUDIENCE NEEDS THIS INFORMATION TO UNDERSTAND THE NEXT SCENE, BUT TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO WRITE THE SCENE BEFORE US SUCH THAT THE AUDIENCE WILL BE INTERESTED IN WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.

YES BUT, YES BUT YES BUT YOU REITERATE.

AND I RESPOND FIGURE IT OUT.

HOW DOES ONE STRIKE THE BALANCE BETWEEN WITHHOLDING AND VOUCHSAFING INFORMATION? THAT IS THE ESSENTIAL TASK OF THE DRAMATIST. AND THE ABILITY TO DO THAT IS WHAT SEPARATES YOU FROM THE LESSER SPECIES IN THEIR BLUE SUITS.

FIGURE IT OUT.

*drinks*

START, EVERY TIME, WITH THIS INVIOLABLE RULE: THE SCENE MUST BE DRAMATIC. it must start because the hero HAS A PROBLEM, AND IT MUST CULMINATE WITH THE HERO FINDING HIM OR HERSELF EITHER THWARTED OR EDUCATED THAT ANOTHER WAY EXISTS.

LOOK AT YOUR LOG LINES. ANY LOGLINE READING “BOB AND SUE DISCUSS…” IS NOT DESCRIBING A DRAMATIC SCENE.

*drinks*

PLEASE NOTE THAT OUR OUTLINES ARE, GENERALLY, SPECTACULAR. THE DRAMA FLOWS OUT BETWEEN THE OUTLINE AND THE FIRST DRAFT.

THINK LIKE A FILMMAKER RATHER THAN A FUNCTIONARY, BECAUSE, IN TRUTH, YOU ARE MAKING THE FILM. WHAT YOU WRITE, THEY WILL SHOOT.

HERE ARE THE DANGER SIGNALS. ANY TIME TWO CHARACTERS ARE TALKING ABOUT A THIRD, THE SCENE IS A CROCK OF SHIT.

*drinks*

ANY TIME ANY CHARACTER IS SAYING TO ANOTHER “AS YOU KNOW”, THAT IS, TELLING ANOTHER CHARACTER WHAT YOU, THE WRITER, NEED THE AUDIENCE TO KNOW, THE SCENE IS A CROCK OF SHIT.

*drinks*

DO NOT WRITE A CROCK OF SHIT. WRITE A RIPPING THREE, FOUR, SEVEN MINUTE SCENE WHICH MOVES THE STORY ALONG, AND YOU CAN, VERY SOON, BUY A HOUSE IN BEL AIR AND HIRE SOMEONE TO LIVE THERE FOR YOU.

REMEMBER YOU ARE WRITING FOR A VISUAL MEDIUM. MOST TELEVISION WRITING, OURS INCLUDED, SOUNDS LIKE RADIO. THE CAMERA CAN DO THE EXPLAINING FOR YOU. LET IT. WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERS DOING -*LITERALLY*. WHAT ARE THEY HANDLING, WHAT ARE THEY READING. WHAT ARE THEY WATCHING ON TELEVISION, WHAT ARE THEY SEEING.

IF YOU PRETEND THE CHARACTERS CANT SPEAK, AND WRITE A SILENT MOVIE, YOU WILL BE WRITING GREAT DRAMA.

*drinks*

I CLOSE WITH THE ONE THOUGHT: LOOK AT THE SCENE AND ASK YOURSELF “IS IT DRAMATIC? IS IT ESSENTIAL? DOES IT ADVANCE THE PLOT?”

ANSWER TRUTHFULLY.

*drinks*

*drinks*

*drinks*

IF THE ANSWER IS “NO” WRITE IT AGAIN OR THROW IT OUT. IF YOU’VE GOT ANY QUESTIONS, CALL ME UP.

LOVE, DAVE MAMET

 

 

This is The End. This is The Beginning.

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Do you like that Doors song, The End? It’s sort of moody and spacey with the keyboards doing their floaty ominous thing? I’ve always liked that song because, as my daughter tells me relentlessly, I am emom (get it? emo + mom? She’s hilarious.)

But, frustratingly for my doom and gloom tastes, I am also an optimistic fantasist! I believe that the end is the beginning and even with a disaster, dumpster fire of a year like 2016, good will come.

But I don’t wait around for good to drop by with coffee cake. I do good things. Writing is a good thing. It is good for the writer and (if you do your job right) it is good for the reader. But that’s not all writers do. We critique and beta other writers’ work. We engage in book talk like the nerdy fiends we are. We care about books because books are supercharged delivery systems for ideas. They are how we learn to be critical thinkers (and how, once we learn, we don’t forget.)

Books are awesome, we all agree. (Except you in the back. Show yourself out.) But how do we go about writing them?

Short answer, and you can knock off early:  You just do. You sit. You think. You write. You can mix it up a bit. Write while standing, sit to think. Or sit and write and think later – messy, but I’ve done it! Essentially though, that’s it.

Long answer: You try every trick in the book to fool yourself into devoting hours of your time to thinking, writing and rewriting.

You find other writers to complain to about how hard writing is.

You read. There are lots of ratios floating around here but I like to think of it as minimum 2/1 ratio. For every 1000 words you want to write, you need to read 2000 words. Read the way you eat (or, actually, the way I eat) voraciously and widely.

You subscribe to magazines (Writers Digest, Poets & Writers etc.), newsletters (PW, Shelfawareness, Goodreads)

You join a crit group/writing group and you make sure you do the work and show up.

You join societies or groups of writers (I belong to the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators, SCBWI)

You attend local or regional writing conferences – some are almost a week long and really expensive, some are a day long conference at a meeting and absolutely reasonable. You go to what you can, when you can.

You commit to writing in a way that is real and quotidian.

Doing the above (and having help from many wonderful people) is how, as of December 2, 2016, I managed to write five books of 80,000 words or more. I’m not talking about whether those books are good or not. I’m talking about doing it. Writing. I have done it and I will keep doing it.

So, last Thursday I wrote THE END on my manuscript. Today, I’m already thinking, “What’s Next?”